Protecting our Foster Kids – Review

June 9, 2015

There was a strong reaction to the first episode of ‘Protecting our Foster Kids’. Our social media channels evidenced quite clearly that the programme left many of us teary, angry and in the main disappointed. The carers were described in many different ways, ranging from “hideous” to “caring” to “unsupported”.

The truth of the matter is when watching a programme like this we will only see a piece of the whole picture. For that reason it is not fair to make too strong a judgement on people who opened themselves up to the world and with what seemed to me a warm and welcoming disposition and hope for the future. As the programme went on there were points when I felt uncomfortable by the language the foster carers used when things were going wrong and yes it without doubt felt that the children were easily disposable in a way that perhaps would not be if they were birth children. It undeniable seemed unfair and with my wife sitting next to me crying I did the manly thing trying to appear in control whilst sheepishly wiping away a tear or two.

Many people on social media recognised that the wrong thing to do was to place the second sister in an environment that was at that point working for the existing family dynamic. This seems clear although perhaps that is easy for us to say in hindsight. Placement matching involves meeting the needs of each child in the local authority’s care. Often when carer numbers are limited it ends up being the ‘make the best of a bad situation’. Again, we could easily criticise but we don’t know how difficult it was to placement find. Many people asked where the support was but again, perhaps the administration of the support was inappropriate to share or too boring to broadcast when there was so much good material showing the human impact, the thoughts and feelings, the moments of vulnerability and distress, the real fallout when things don’t work.

Because we didn’t see the difficult behaviour, it did seem nonsensical that the placement could break down. In this particular programme we got to see a girl behind any façade. She opened herself up to the camera in a way that many other young people would not. Vulnerable, emotional, frightened. There and then as viewers we all felt somewhat inclined to take her in instead.

So what can we take from this programme. Many felt that this negative first example is going to put off people from wanting to foster and felt that the first representation of foster carers was a poor one. One person on our Facebook page spent the day after the programme defending foster carers as the wider public made their judgments about them on the strength of that one programme. She argued that a positive storyline as a parallel to the one we saw would have been much more helpful in providing a broader picture. I pondered (or perhaps hoped) the opposite. How many people will have seen that programme and felt that they could have done better themselves? And of those, how many will now feel inclined to come forward. Of course we will never really be able to measure that.

In defence of the programme makers, they decided to follow this case and had no way to know whether it was to be successful or otherwise. If it paints a negative picture it was nonetheless the picture that painted itself in front of them. Could they have shown this episode later in the series instead? Perhaps! But we (as the fostering sector) haven’t seen the other episodes yet to really make a judgement whether this is a positive production or not. So let’s instead see what we think at the end.

Tim McArdle

Head of Placement & Recruitment

8 thoughts on “Protecting our Foster Kids – Review”

  1. There are many things that worried me about the programme – firstly I want to say that I don’t fault the foster family, they cared about the first sister. What happened by introducing the 2nd sister is where my concern lay. I don’t want to go on but do want the following to be considered:
    If we continue to rely solely on Fostering and ignore the need for good residential options we will always be saying a lack of foster carers is what the problem is. No it is not. The problem is we will NEVER have enough foster carers. There really aren’t enough people willing, able, capable or appropriate to become good foster carers. It’s a BIG ask and frankly those people are few and far between. Given the levels or distress and damage done to children BEFORE they come into care means they need professional help and not merely a roof over their heads.
    The motivations to be a foster carer have changed, no longer those who did it out of empathy and kindness (those who did it before it was professionalised and salaried) – but a career option with benefits. I know they need money for what they do but I have been at many recruitment events and know some people do it for money and not out of concern for children.
    The whole system is fragmented and disjointed – expensive and a massive failure to our children.
    We need residential options and less emphasis on fostering – the cheaper option. What amazes me is just how many so called “professionals” it takes to mess up a child’s life while continuing to have money to pay their mortgages with outcome so bad for so long.

    1. Thanks David,

      I certainly see children ‘bouncing’ from placement to placement when it is clear one good residential placement could work to stabilise and build self esteem that has been eroded with each breakdown. I consider that fostering instead of residential is pushed as ‘better for the child’ but the main motivation is the fact it is cheaper. I remember days when I used to read a profile on a child and talk to the placement officer about a residential perhaps being the better option but it does seem now to reach the criteria there has to be evidence of placement breakdowns in foster care which is not fair for anyone. We do as best we can not to make placements that will lead to breakdown. It is not always possible but sometimes you read the information presented and wonder why fostering is currently being considered. When it comes to carer recruitment, hopefully, other agencies like us are as ‘picky’ as us and using our years of experience to recruit the carers with the best attitude and potential resilience (I say potential because it can only be tested in one way). I do fear that fostering providers, be them local authorities or agenices, that struggle to recruit may not have the highest standards expected of their carers.

  2. In reply, I have now been a long term foster carer for15 years with my husband. We sold our house , so we could rent a house seven bedrooms so we could take sibling groups trying to keep brothers and sisters together. Out of the sale we put it into our fostering. After they had experienced four breakdowns took on two brothers, we worked hard and long hours and through the night. The primary school said they most likely would not sit GCSE’s one came out with 10 GCSE’s A-B and C’s and now is apprentice chef. The other brother came out with 11 across the Board with B’s and C’s . When they came into our home they could hardly read or write. A young lady we looked after for three years is now 22 and in USA doing well. Another young lady who has been with us currently for the past three years is in the RAF cadets and when time comes wants to join. And we have just started all over again with a 7 and 8 year old. Yes its hard yes its emotional .We have done court yes we have been the voices of our children and you are right it is cheaper than residential but my children have a home and support as long as they need it and we are always here for them, just like we are for our 8 biological children. What lets everything down is the long wait to get into CAMHS or any other organisation which is meant to be there to help the children. In asking our children what they prefer they have said foster placement, as you have the same carer, they are there when you get up ,come home from school and go to bed at night. In a survey It did show that there can, however, be organisational and policy constraints that interfere with the development of positive attachment relationships in residential care. Shift patterns, training, holidays and sickness all disrupt contacts between children and carers. In addition ‘special’ relationships between children and particular members of staff are often viewed with suspicion. And it also costs considerably more money.
    we are proud of our career proud of the achievements of all our children and decided many years ago to do long term fostering because we wanted to provide a stable loving long term (rest of their lives’ if they so wished) home which would be as near to ‘normal’ as was possible in what ever circumstances pre-existed .
    Unfortunately in a lot of cases breakdowns in a residential unit simply mean a move to another residential unit which the system in many cases records simply as a move and not a breakdown which means the causes or reasons for the breakdown are not considered or acted upon creating a self perpetuating cycle the advantages of a foster home are the foster parents (NOTE parents not carers ) work with child/ren hands on 24/7 and in the majority of cases will always go the extra mile to ensure their children get all of the help and support they need.

  3. Just managing to catch up on this. We foster a female sibling pair (1 Tween and 1 Teen) who have always been together. They had to share a room briefly when they first came to us and they just couldn’t cope with that. They fought verbally and sometimes physically. They would do and say horrible, spiteful things to each other and created an atmosphere that nearly broke us all.

    We discusssed the possibility of seperating if the situation continued. But we didn’t want to give up on them. Too many people already had. We dropped the sale price of our hours, selling it for significantly less than it was worth. We got a bigger house (and bigger mortgage) but they have their own room. The change was amazing and instant, both girls are better than ever. We were lucky of course – we don’t have our own children to worry about, we have a big supportive family and we were already on the path to moving to a house that was big enough for all of us.

    We didn’t get to see the behaviors that Amy / Natalie displayed that caused the breakdown in this placement, but I just felt it was a shame things got so bad that the carers were not able to give Amy time to re-settle once Natalie had left. Starting a new school, having to share with her sister and coming out of the “Honeymoon” period all in one go must have been so difficult for Amy. Adding lots of reviews and social worker interventions may have escalate the problems. I get they were essential but also steady reminder that the this is not a “normal” family. Steph and Chris seemed like great carers, doing their best. I hope they continue to foster and that they can put this behind them.

    Also finally – the bloody school!! You have a foster kid, in a new start, in a new placement and you get the carer in for MASCARA!! What the heck!! How about a big clap on the back that the kid is in full time education (all be it looking like a panda), how about appreciating that her makeup is her self defence, her mask against the world.

Leave a Reply